A mention in this week's U.S. News and World Report inspired the Homeland Security facility to invite the media for a rare look at two different health care exercises, both of which seemed to come together as one.
In this scenario, health care workers from throughout the U.S. acted out an explosion at a battery acid factory. Patients show up bleeding and in various states of shock and hysteria. More and more casualties pile up and workers have to set up a decon station outside the emergency room.
"There's just a heightened sense of urgency," says student Irene Thompson, who comes from a hospital in Maryland. "It's not like sitting in a classroom, where you're talking about it. We're actually doing it."
Lanny Campbell, a doctor from Idaho, sees all sorts of obstacles thrown at him in the exercise. At one point a generator failure shuts down power at the hospital, also part of the drill.
"It's quite overwhelming but it helps me prepare a little bit," says Campbell.
The CDP operates on the site of the old Fort McClellan Army base, and this exercise takes place at the Noble Training Center, which was once the base hospital. The CDP was training first responders from all over the country on nightmare terrorism scenarios even before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and teaches responders about everything else from hurricanes to meth labs in cars.
Trainers say the training helps the responders with everything. Health care course manager Candice Gilliland says, "Essentially what they bring back is a little bit more knowledge to go back and check their emergency operations plan at their facility, and check and see, hey, do we have this accounted for, can we or are we prepared for this."
Another course manager, John Skinner, describes how world events, from terrorism to natural disasters, shape what happens at the center.
"We're trying to keep up with the incidents that are happening throughout the world," says Skinner. "We've had Katrina, which was a major incident for the United States, we've had fires, we've had floods, and every single one of those produced large numbers of casualties."
The courses are paid for entirely out of the federal Homeland Security budget so hospitals, local police, fire departments, or others won't have to do so.